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Monday, February 13, 2006

The Possibility for Radical Educatonal Reform in Chicago Starts on the Northside

Props to Stephanie Banchero for getting this right in her Chicago Tribune Magazine cover story, “Traditionally, public schools have ignored—or lacked the resources to deal with—dysfunctional households that handicap children’s ability to learn. But some educators argue that they cannot teach these students how to read, write and do arithmetic if they cannot first stabilize their home lives.”

When read alongside the Sunday NYT article “Tutor Program Offered by Law is Going Unused” we can begin to understand why these non-mandatory tutoring programs are “underutilized” by those in the “deepest need”. It’s the parents and the community, stupid.

Not that CPS gets it, Beth Swanson, the director of after school programs blames the assistance shortfall on tutoring companies’ failure to reach special needs and limited English students “Typically, we see providers opt not to serve those populations and likely because they don’t have the materials, expertise or resources to do so.”

Sounds like most folk don’t want to deal with the reality of dysfunctional parents and dysfunctional communities. Blame every service provider, but don’t deal with the real problem. Smother them with basic skills and keep them in the surround. Never expose them to the best education because then they will become active in the political sphere. Right now, in Chicago, poor kids are surrounded by hunger, guns, family violence, isolation, drugs, criminals, police, abuse, gangs, dumbing-down, and bling-bling. And that is just the short list. Such an environment breeds a special kind of hostility—one where being “disrespected” or “mean mugged” leads to murder. In short the sphere that the poorest children live in manifests a slow form of suicide.

CPS claims to hold schools accountable and shuts some of them down—shuffling the students to other underperforming high schools and offering non-mandatory tutoring. They even hold hearings where the community has there “say”. Of course these “bogus” controlled hearings are held ‘downtown”. The machine keeps humming along. Now, I’ve been reading Earl Shorris’ Riches for the Poor alongside Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and it becomes evident that true education reform in Chicago is a sham.

If the folks in the Collins neighborhood wanted to take a stand, they should demand that their children go to the best schools in Chicago. In order to drive this point home they should take their protest to the posh academic magnet school known as Northside College Prep and disrupt the lives of the intellectual elites in Chicago. Remember that Northside College Prep, a magnet school, is 7 percent African American in a district that is 49 percent African American.

I’m sure that if hundreds of parents, students and community members from the Chicago’s Westside took their protest to the school for “people of means” on the Northside, that that would make front page news in all the papers. How’s that for a splinter in the eye of the establishment? This would bring the debate about education in Chicago front and center.

Let’s be clear: I believe that the best education for the elites is the best education for all. After all, if students are to learn to think critically, they need something to think critically about. Basic skills—kill children’s’ desire to think critically in an academic setting. What to do? Demand the elite curriculum for all students in Chicago not just the intellectual elites. Create bold new small schools that embrace elitist humanities curriculums—like the curriculum at Phillips Exeter. This bold step would value every student and every community in Chicago. Perhaps this is the bold vision needed to effect disruptive change in Chicago.

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